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Johann THEILE (1646-1724)
Die Seele Christi heilige mich [7:30]
Ach, daß ich hören solte [7:19]
Johann VIERDANCK (1605-1646)
Suite for two violins and bc [7:13]
Georg VON BERTOUCH (1668-1743)
Mein Herz ist bereit [14:44]
Sonata 13 in c minor [10:22]
Sonata 10 in a minor [7:53]
Du Tochter Zion, freue Dich sehr [14:24]
Ingeborg Dalheim (soprano), Marianne Beate Kielland (contralto), Njål Sparbo (bass)
Trondheim Barokk
rec. 15-18 November, Fanrem church, Trondheim, Norway. DDD

One of the most important collections of 17th-century music is the so-called 'Düben collection'. This was put together by Gustav Düben (c.1628-1690), conductor of the Swedish court orchestra and organist of the German church in Stockholm from 1663 until his death. It is ironic that this collection, now preserved in the library of Uppsala University, doesn't include a single piece by a Swedish or even Scandinavian composer. That is not due to the fact that Düben was of German origin: the collection includes a large amount of German music, but also compositions from other countries. The main reason is that there were no composers in the Scandinavian countries. It was only during the 18th century that composers from those countries made their appearance. One of the best-known is Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758), who is the first composer of Swedish birth in recorded history.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the Baltic area was under German influence. That was largely due to the importance of the German cities which were part of the Hanseatic League. Lübeck was its capital; among the members we find many German cities, such as Hamburg, Rostock, Stralsund and Danzig, all with direct access to the Baltic. Although some Swedish towns were also part of the League, it was clearly dominated by the German members which also resulted in a strong German influence in cultural matters. To this one can add religious influence: in the 16th century the three Scandinavian countries Sweden, Denmark and Norway - the latter was part of the Danish kingdom until 1814 - had embraced the Lutheran Reformation.

Musical life in the Scandinavian countries was dominated by German composers. Especially the Danish court in the first half of the 17th century, during the reign of Christian IV, was populated by masters from Germany, such as Heinrich Schütz, Matthias Weckmann and Kaspar Förster. In Stockholm the Düben dynasty made its appearance in 1620 when Gustav's father Andreas was appointed second organist of the court orchestra. This disc focuses on three composers who were from Saxony. All spent a part of their career in the Baltic area.

Johann Vierdanck is the oldest. It is not known where he was born, but it was in either Saxony or Thuringia. He was a pupil of Schütz as he started his career as a choirboy in Dresden where he later acted as an instrumentalist, having studied the violin and the cornett. For some years he worked in Lübeck and in Stockholm, and was then appointed organist in Stralsund, one of the Hanseatic cities. Vierdanck is represented here by a suite for two violins and bc from the collection Erster Theil newer Pavanen of 1637. These suites are notable for being arranged by key and for their trio-sonata texture, making Vierdanck one of the first German composers following this Italian concept. He was also one of the first to be influenced by the Italian violinist Carlo Farina, who lived and worked in Dresden.

Johann Theile was extremely gifted: he started studying law at Leipzig University at the age of 12. Being of humble birth, this helped him to improve his social standing. He was held in high esteem by student friends and also, according to a poem dedicated to him in the preface of his first publication of 1667, by none other than Heinrich Schütz. Theile did take lessons with Schütz, but how intensive their relationship was, is not known. Later on, he had frequent contact with Dietrich Buxtehude in Lübeck. From 1673 to 1675 he was Kapellmeister at Gottorp Palace, some 120 kilometers from Lübeck, and then in Danish territory. The dukes of Gottorp had made their palace a cultural centre of the northern region. It even got an international reputation by attracting musicians from England, such as William Brade. Political circumstances in Denmark forced the Duke to leave Gottorp for Hamburg in 1675, and Theile followed him. There he composed his first opera which was performed in 1678 at the inauguration of the new opera house at the Gänsemarkt. He stayed here until 1685 and then worked in Wolffenbüttel and Merseburg. Little is known about the latter stages of his career. He may have worked in Berlin for some time, but died in Naumburg.

The two pieces recorded here are sacred concertos in the style of Schütz. They are through-composed, with strong attention to the text. In Ach, daß ich hören sollte the opening words "ach, ach" are emphasized in truly rhetorical manner, and return at the end: the piece closes with a repetition of these same words. Its scoring is typical of German 17th-century music: two violins, three viole da gamba and bc. Die Seele Christi heilige mich omits the violin parts: the soprano is supported by three viols and bc. The vocal and instrumental parts are strongly interwoven and both contribute to the expressive power of the text.

Georg von Bertouch is a special case as he had two careers simultaneously: as a performing musician and composer on the one hand and as a military officer in the Danish army on the other. He must have been a musician of some standing as he was one of the dedicatees of the book Das beschützte Orchestre by Johann Mattheson. He lived in Norway, and the music world owes him the first publication of a piece of Norwegian folk music. The two vocal works recorded here are from a second important source of German 17th-century music, the so-called Bokemeyer collection preserved in Berlin. They seem to date from his early years as they are in the style of the 17th century. There are some recitative-like episodes, but not comparable to the recitative as it would develop in the 18th century. There is quite a lot of coloratura, but I don't have the feeling that it always makes much sense. In fact, I am not impressed by these two pieces. In Mein Herz ist bereit I noted some modulations which I found rather meaningless and not inspired by the text. All in all I have heard hardly anything here that is really memorable.

The two sonatas are better. They are part of a series of 24 in all the keys; they have survived in a manuscript from which the first five sonatas and almost the complete sixth are missing. The sonatas played here are quite nice, but not something one could not do without. This disc is not my first acquaintance with Bertouch's music. Bergen Barokk recorded seven sonatas from the same collection which I reviewed here. Fortunately Trondheim Barokk recorded two sonatas which are not on that disc. Reading what I wrote in that review I enjoyed Bertouch's sonatas more than I did here, and that is probably down to the performance. Trondheim Barokk is a good ensemble, and I especially like the handling of the viola da gamba parts in the sacred concertos. However, there are too few dynamic accents, and the performances as a whole are too bland. German 17th-century music needs a more engaging and dynamic approach.

The vocal soloists leave a mixed impression. Ingeborg Dalheim has a nice voice which is well suited to this repertoire but her interpretations are too cautious. She should have done more with the text and there is too little dynamic shading. Marianne Beate Kielland is better in every respect. I am not impressed by Mein Herz ist bereit as a composition, but she surely makes the most of it. She adds ornaments which underline the meaning of the text and that is exactly how it should be done. Her German pronuncation is perfect. Njål Sparbo sings in a quite theatrical style which is sometimes a little over the top but he certainly explores the meaning of the text.

On balance this disc is a bit mixed. It includes some nice stuff, especially the two sacred pieces by Theile; the sonatas by Bertouch are certainly interesting but don't receive the best possible readings. His sacred concertos probably do but even such good performances can't raise them above the average.

Johan van Veen